Islamic State terrorists executed a “surprise attack” on Iraqi police in Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic region in the nation’s north, late on Thursday, killing an officer and injuring at least three others according to the Kurdish outlet Rudaw.
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq, an autonomous entity, has not traditionally governed Kirkuk but managed the city from 2014 to 2017 after the Islamic State attacked and Iraqi armed forces fled. The Kurdish Peshmerga prevented ISIS from conquering the city at the height of the expansion of their “caliphate.” Baghdad recaptured the city from Kurdish control in 2017 after the KRG organized a non-binding referendum on independence from Iraq. Since then, Kirkuk residents have complained of regular ISIS attacks on their infrastructure, poor management by the Iraqi government, and the removal of Kurdish civilians from their homes.
The Peshmerga warned this week that they have documented an increase in the frequency of Islamic State attacks throughout the KRG, urging greater attention to the growing problem.
Thursday’s attack reportedly occurred in the city of Daquq, which is within Kirkuk province; Kirkuk is also the name of the province’s main city. Rudaw, citing the mayor of the city, stated that a “surprise attack” occurred Thursday evening, apparently the work of a lone ISIS jihadist. It noted that ISIS has also used its public relations outlets to claim that it had killed at least ten members of Iraqi, not Kurdish, armed forces in the past month in various attacks throughout the north.
Following the collapse of the “caliphate” in Iraq in 2017, the Islamic State has consisted largely of roving gangs of jihadists who have dedicated themselves to isolated attacks. Attempts to seize physical territory have so far failed.
“We have said this many times, ISIS is still a threat to the region because of the terrorist attacks they conduct,” the secretary-general of Peshmerga’s Ministry of Affairs Jabar Yawar said this week. “What ISIS lost in 2017 when then-Prime Minister of Iraq Haidar al-Abadi announced their defeat, was only their alleged caliphate, however, ISIS is still out there conducting attacks.”
Rudaw reported that the attack Thursday was the latest in a series the terrorist group has claimed in the region, prompting Peshmerga leaders to urge cooperation with Iraqi forces — a proposition Baghdad may be considering. Most of the areas of concern are in northern Iraq, where the KRG is based, though attacks have occurred far from Kirkuk province. Places like Kirkuk, however, where the KRG and the Iraqi government are at odds over who should legitimately be governing, have become most vulnerable to attack.
The KRG announced a further deployment of Peshmerga forces throughout its territories last week, but its reach is limited by Baghdad’s control over neighboring regions and disagreements over who is in charge in some areas.
“Undoubtedly, there are going to be joint operations between the Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces,” Brig. Gen. Abdulla Ramadhan, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 14th Division, reportedly told Rudaw. “There is an order from the commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces [Mustafa al-Kadhimi] that there needs to be coordination with the Peshmerga forces, notably in the Makhmour area.”
“The objective is to limit Daesh [ISIS] activities and eliminate them in the Makhmour region,” he added. “After we cleared the Ganouz area, the militants fled to Mount Qarachogh. Therefore, we are taking these measures to limit their activities.”
These regions also fall in territories where the KRG and the Iraqi military dispute control.
Reports of increased numbers of Islamic State attacks have triggered an exodus of civilians in areas targeted during the rise of the first “caliphate,” who are choosing not to wait to see if the currently minor threat evolves. Members of the Kakai ethnic minority in Kirkuk have reportedly begun emptying their villages in the event that enough Islamic State jihadis organize to attack them. The community experienced an attempted genocide during ISIS’s initial run in their territory and are acting early to prevent more massacres, Voice of America reported.
American military officials warned in November that as many as 10,000 members of the Islamic State are still roaming freely in Iraq and Syria, escaping arrest following the collapse of their “state.”
“They are not going to take over any territory, because we’ve defeated them territorially. Now they are doing an insurgency,” Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto said, noting that the total was about one fourth the number of fighters ISIS had at the height of its invasion of both countries. “They are assassinating people, they are kidnapping people. They are a bunch of criminals. They are still out there in some parts of Iraq, in the mountains and in the caves. We find them and we bomb them and we kill them.”
Kurdish forces on the ground at the time had already begun protesting that disputes between the KRG and the Iraqi government in Baghdad were leaving security vacuums in areas like Kirkuk.